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“We are what we eat.”
How many times have you heard this from dietitians and other health and wellness experts?
However, when it comes to eating well to avoid or treat uterine fibroids and related symptoms, the research on the fibroids diet link tends to track in two distinct directions.
First, in their research, health experts have examined if and how our diets and body weight present a verified risk factor for developing uterine fibroids. Second, for women who are already diagnosed, some experts look at the foods and dietary supplements that can help us to control some of fibroids’ worst symptoms—including pain. Let’s start with the risk factors.
Fibroid Risk Factors
A two-year (2009-2011) Chinese clinical study of 283 women aimed to explore the link between uterine fibroids and the subjects’ dietary habits, physical activity, and overall stress levels. Published in The Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and controlling for age, social status, and other, non-dietary factors, researchers found a verified link between lifestyle/diet and the women’s likelihood to develop fibroids. Among premenopausal women, that risk was much higher.
More recently, the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health conducted a 2021 meta-analysis of clinical studies on the data-supported link between fibroids, nutrition and diet. Based on 20 years’ worth of published articles and data, the Journal’s authors found that researchers linked women’s nutrition and diet to a higher risk of developing fibroids.
Yet, meta-analyses and clinical studies notwithstanding, many practicing medical professionals–including The Mayo Clinic–classify the fibroids-food link more as a potential risk factor than a surefire causal outcome. Also, food and diet are just one risk factor among the list published by U.S. Health and Human Services Office of Women’s Health.
Risk factors for developing fibroids according to the HHS Office of Women’s Health:
- Age. Fibroids become more common as women age, especially during the 30s and 40s through menopause. After menopause, fibroids usually shrink.
- Family history. Having a family member with fibroids increases your risk. If a woman’s mother had fibroids, her risk of having them is about three times higher than average.
- Ethnic origin. African-American women are more likely to develop fibroids than white women.
- Obesity. Women who are overweight are at higher risk for fibroids. For very heavy women, the risk is two to three times greater than average.
- Eating habits (diet). Foods to avoid include red meat (e.g., beef) and ham, as they are linked with a higher risk of fibroids. Eating plenty of green vegetables seems to protect women from developing fibroids.
In fact, beyond their own clinical experience and research, women’s health experts cite few known risk factors for developing fibroids. But they do list some potentials such as race, family history, early start of periods, obesity, and vitamin D deficiency. Also, uterine fibroids contain more estrogen and progesterone receptors than typical uterine muscle cells, so hormones can determine how and how much fibroids will grow.
So should all women switch to a new diet for their fibroids? The research is, at best, non-conclusive.
According to The Mayo Clinic and Healthline, it’s as much about what we don’t eat or stop eating, as it is about chasing down new or cool fibroid diets. For example, according to the Clinic’s list, it’s best to limit our intake of red meat, ham, lamb, simple refined carbohydrates (including soda) and alcohol to avoid increasing our risk of developing fibroids.
However, in February 2021the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health published a narrative review (of various clinical studies) that examined the diet-to-fibroid link. In the review, the diet factor seems to vary from country to country and from study to study. Take, for example, two separate published studies on the consumption of dairy products–both of which assessed over 1,000 symptomatic patient cohorts. A 2009 article, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, which outlines a study of over 22,000 premenopausal black women, showed a decreased risk among those women who consumed more dairy (than the control group). Conversely, in a 2018-published study in Medicine (journal), controlling for other factors and demographics, dairy consumption was shown to heighten the risk for developing fibroids.
Also, while obesity or a high body mass index (BMI) are potential risk factors, obesity itself depends on a variety of physiological, psycho-social, genetic, socioeconomic, environmental, geographic, and other factors–including our daily diet. Or, as the researchers in this article in The Journal of Medical Research and Opinion state: “While obesity is a chronic disease that nowadays represents a significant global burden of disability and a major public health concern…definitive conclusions (on the obesity-fibroid link) have not been drawn.”
Finally, as evidenced in the Chinese-based study, daily stress, which also contributes to weight gain and obesity, can be a factor in both the development and the severity of uterine fibroids.
The bottom line here? At best, it’s difficult to isolate the food-fibroid link from the other risk factors that can determine whether or not you will become one of the three U.S. women who develop fibroids by age 50.
Can Food Shrink Fibroids Naturally?
Whether or not you have fibroids, a balanced diet will help fuel a healthy immune system and promote general well-being, including better sleep and increased energy to engage in the activities that help you to maintain a healthy weight.
What foods might help with fibroids or reduce fibroid symptoms?
Food can’t directly shrink fibroids, but certain dietscan help alleviate fibroid symptoms and discomforts such as:
- heavy menstrual bleeding
- between-period spotting
- lower back pain
- frequent and urgent urination
- anemia (an outcome of heavy or prolonged periods)
Garlic and Fibroids
Pineapple and Fibroids
Pineapple as a proven anti-inflammatory, pineapple may also reduce fibroid-induced uterine contractions and related discomfort and cramping. As a food supplement or capsule, natural food and other retail outlets often package and market the pineapple enzyme as Bromelain.
WARNING LABEL ADVICE
While it may help to relieve some inflammation symptoms, the research doesn’t always support pineapple’s supposed or touted effects. In its article on Bromelain, WebMd, the consumer-focused online health resource, concludes that “more evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of Bromelain for these (pain relief and anti-inflammatory) uses.”
Vitamin D3 and Fibroids
In 2015, the Fertility and Sterility Journal published a meta-analysis of clinical studies on the link between Vitamin D3 and fibroids. Based on the research, the study’s authors concluded that Vitamin D3 deficiency is a possible risk factor for developing fibroids, and, post-diagnosis, increasing our Vitamin D intake may provide a non-surgical intervention to reduce fibroids’ acuity and size. Foods high in vitamin D include egg yolks, fortified foods like breakfast cereals, and oily fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel.
WARNING LABEL ADVICE
Often nicknamed “the sunshine vitamin,” your body’s Vitamin D levels can depend on the area of the U.S. you live in–plus how much your job or lifestyle allows you to get out there for some daily exposure to natural daylight. Studies suggest it’s best to have your Vitamin D levels above 30 ng/mL (80 nmol/L). Before you begin taking a Vitamin D supplement, ask your healthcare provider to check your current vitamin D levels. Also, as a Vitamin-D-rich food, fish has essential fatty acids that counter inflammation, as well as vitamin B12 that supports the uptake of iron in women who have anemia caused by heavy menstrual bleeding.
Is okra good for fibroids? And other veggies
Okra is a vegetable that people commonly think of when they ask about foods and fibroids. However, while many research studies, including this study in The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology), advocate for a vegetable-rich diet, we could not find an expert study that specifically forefronted okra as a foodto control fibroid symptoms.
In his Nutrition Facts informational video, NYT bestselling author Dr. Michael Greger, FACLM, an internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues, recommends lots of green vegetables like spinach, kale, and broccoli.
Bananas and Fibroids
Bananas are loaded with fiber, antioxidants, pectin, magnesium, vitamins, and potassium, which are all excellent resources to fuel your body. These nutrients, coupled with bananas’ ability to reduce inflammation or swelling, can help to slow fibroid growth or symptoms.
Other fruits are great too, as many have a class of chemicals that act as an estrogen blocker and may, therefore, halt fibroid growth.
Other Foods Good for Fibroids
- coconut water
WARNING LABEL ADVICE
The listed foods are not meant to prevent or cure fibroids–but they may relieve some of your symptoms.
Think healthy. Think vitamin-rich veggies, fruits, and other fiber-rich foods. Avoid sugars, fats, and alcohol. Regardless of your health status, age, menopausal status or BMI, most doctors will recommend adding more natural foods and avoiding carbs, processed fats, excess alcohol consumption, and bad sugars.
Foods to Avoid with Fibroids
Looking for natural ways to manage your fibroid symptoms? Based on the fibroid hormone link, balancing your diet may help to balance your hormone levels. Start by restricting processed meats, particularly red meat such as beef or lamb, which have high levels of added hormones. Similarly, some high-fat dairy goods contain steroids and other chemicals that can lead to inflammation.
Refined carbohydrates (think breakfast cereals, soda, white rice, pasta) can cause bloating and can aggravate the constipation associated with fibroids. Also, according to a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, caffeine intake–including soda–can increase estrogen levels among women–though the extent seems to vary by racial groups and amount of daily intake. Meanwhile, Nutrition Facts warns that alcohol consumption–particularly beer can increase estrogen, and a study published at Current Obstetric and Gynecology Reports concludes that women who drink up to or more than one beer per day may have a 50% higher risk of developing fibroids.
Conclusion About Foods and Fibroids
Changing or upgrading your diet may not shrink or eradicate your fibroids, but it will help your general wellbeing and can help you to control symptoms and fibroid growth. However, if your symptoms are causing significant pain or interrupting your daily activities we recommend exploring faster-acting options like uterine fibroid embolization, a 90-minute outpatient procedure that can treat all of your fibroids at once.
Uterine fibroid embolization is a non-surgical, minimally-invasive procedure where an interventional radiologist injects small beads to block the blood flow to fibroids to shrink or completely destroy them. Generally speaking, women notice relief from symptoms within four to six weeks after uterine fibroid embolization, which is significantly quicker and longer-lasting than dietary changes.
To learn more about uterine fibroid embolization, and check if you’re a candidate for the procedure, take the PainTheory quiz.
Read more about how it works on our website. Or ask for a free telephone consultation with one of our care coordinators.
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